Five Great Reasons To Get In The Grenada Groove
Grenada isn’t exactly a hidden gem: nearly 18,000 Canadians visited the southern Caribbean nation last year, a 19% bump over 2017. But it’s not top-of-mind like some of its island neighbours, and that’s a shame. Grenada has much to offer, as Open Jaw’s Ottawa correspondent Peter Johansen discovered during a Grenada Tourism Authority-sponsored visit for Canadian travel media. This is the first of two reports.
Grenada can satisfy the fly-and-flop crowd, with its 50 beaches and a national policy that keeps them all public. But it offers much more -- for nature seekers and garden lovers, agritourists and history buffs, adventurers on both land and sea.
My four-night stay was barely long enough to scratch the surface, but here are five memorable moments:
River Antoine Rum Distillery:
A visit to the oldest functioning rum distillery in the western hemisphere -- it began in 1785 -- is a true step back in time. Water sluices down an aqueduct from a lake a half-mile away, then turns a 178-year-old waterwheel. The wheel creates the energy needed for the first step of rum-making, extracting the juice from sugarcane. Led by our delightfully informative guide Tlos, we see hard-working men feed the extractor and haul away the spent husks; the boiling house, where cane juice is manually ladled through a series of four heated tanks to spike sugar levels; open air distillation tanks hovering above the concrete reservoir where the rum rests; and the cavernous room where it’s hand-bottled at the rate of just 500 bottles daily.
Sugar cane at the rum distillery
When we look somewhat startled by what seems to fail every Canadian hygiene law, Tlos explains the distillery lets natural bacteria kick-start fermentation, unlike mass-produced rums which rely on added yeast and fertilizers to do the job. He claims this eliminates hangovers: “We say, ‘Drink some Rivers tonight, wake up strong tomorrow.’” And so we drink, sampling a fruit punch and two high-octane organic rums, one of them 150-proof -- so high in alcohol it can’t be exported.
Bonus: Other distilleries include Clarke’s Court Rum, the island’s largest producer, and Westerhall Estate.
This privately-owned garden, oft-cited as one of the Caribbean’s finest, commands spectacular views from the Renwick family home. As head gardener Adrianne Hanney guides us about the five-acre property, she says the Renwicks didn’t see eye-to-eye: he liked trees, she liked flowers. You’ll find both, though it seems to me he won out. Among highlights: the only baobab on the island and a 300-year mahogany. Red-footed turtles have free rein, too; Adrianne tells us they eat everything, including dog poop, which helps keep the place tidy.
Adrianne with shaving brush
Bonus: At Laura’s Herb, celebrating a quarter century next year, learn the culinary and healing properties of herbs.
We stop at Concord Falls to admire the stunning 100-foot cataract plunging from deep within a sylvan glade. So do a jam of other tourists. The popularity has given rise to a small conclave of vendors hawking everything from snacks and drinks to souvenirs. The three-level waterfall becomes more beautiful the higher one hikes. Tourists can splash in the bracing pool; one brave guy dives into it from a ledge about half-way up. But two locals clamber to the top to take the plunge -- for tips. We gasp in amazement. Time prevents us from hiking 2.5 hours to top of the falls; that should be done with a guide.
The next day finds us at Annandale Falls, about 15 minutes from St. George, the capital. It is less touristy and more secluded, as the rich vegetation along our short stroll to the water’s edge makes clear. Again we clamber down steps to the edge of the frothing water, which begs us to dip our toes.
There are other waterfalls for every taste, including Tufton Hall, the largest and most remote (it requires a three-hour hike with a local guide), and Seven Sisters, where there are family-friendly choices as well as opportunities for a formidable trek.
Bonus: Grand Etang Lake and Forest Preserve offers serious hikers stunning views from trails around the perimeter of this extinct volcano crater-lake. Some require guides.
Dune Buggy Tour:
I’m no adventurer. Thanks to Sun Hunters, however, I join a three-hour dune buggy tour, throwing all caution to the wind -- okay, not all caution, since I elect to be a passenger, not a driver. Even so, I’m not sure I’m relieved when we’re told our guides, Clevon and Kyron, are certified in mechanics and CPR.
But all that melts away as fellow travel writer Wayne steers our Polaris RZR onto a deeply pockmarked dirt road, dipping and swirling through woods and along a deserted stretch of beach. The road is puddled from recent rain. Mud splashes onto my shoes, my arms, the visor of my helmet. The kid in me craves more. (Advice: warn clients to wear clothing they don’t care about.)
Peter and Wayne all set for a ride
While Wayne must fix eyes squarely ahead, I get to glance around. At stunning vistas of Grenada’s forested valleys and sparkling sea. At small communities and tidy houses reflecting pride of ownership. At goats clambering up hills and chickens scooting out of our way. And at things that make me pause, such as a handmade sign announcing “Wild Meat and Dance Inside these Walls.”
Bonus: Other water adventures include snorkeling, scuba diving and river tubing. Among recommended operators is Dive Grenada, whose packages can include a visit to Grenada’s underwater sculpture garden, the world’s first.
I’m on sensory overload at Diamond Chocolate. A steel pan band plays Christmas carols; that crunch is my feet stomping nutmeg shells that make a path through a lush garden. The unmistakable scent of chocolate wafts through the air.
Grenada’s cocoa production reaches about 800 tons annually, but until recently it’s been an export crop. Growers are now making their own chocolate, in a bean-to-bar process. One of them is Diamond Chocolate, a cooperative set in an old French monastery. We see women sorting the beans by size, so roasting is consistent. We watch as liquid chocolate is fed through what look like the rollers of an oversized washing machine, making it ever smoother. We sample the finished product, including a 100% cocoa concoction that’s surprisingly not bitter. No wonder Jouvay chocolate – the brand it is sold under -- ranks among the world’s top 10.
A visit to Belmont Estate is a worthy follow-up. This organic farm grows a wide variety of crops -- pomegranate and grapefruit, pumpkins and sweet potato, ackee and almonds -- over its 400 acres. But guide Jason focuses on cacao, explaining the tree has a 50-year lifespan. We taste a raw bean, pulpy and white, and see how they’re laid in a bin, covered with green banana leaves and burlap, and fermented naturally. Then we move outdoors, where the fermented beans are laid out on wooden platforms and allowed to dry, turned over every half-hour by workers shuffling through them in bare feet. They’re then pulverized into cocoa, which we sample in the form of a delicious hot drink made with condensed milk.
Belmont Estate crops display
Details: https://www.jouvaychocolate.com; http://belmontestate.net
Bonus: At the island’s newest chocolate factory, Tri Island Chocolate, clients can make their own chocolate bars.
Peter Johansen Ottawa Correspondent
Hurtling down an Olympic bobsled run. Falling off a camel in Rajasthan. Scarfing back 40 butter tarts along the Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. Is there anything Peter Johansen won't do for a travel story? Even so, the retired Carleton University journalism professor hopes his stint as Ottawa correspondent won't pose any danger.
Commentsdebbie a marcotte - December 13, 2019 @ 13:00
We were a selected agents of 8 that were there with Tourist board Sep 23-28/19 and did all that you show. Love Grenada favourite island and after 25years it was a fantastic refresher